Meet Jen Richards, Co-Star and Co-Writer of Her Story
[dropcap background="no" color="#333333"]H[/dropcap]appy Pride Month, everyone! This month, we’re so excited to be profiling the creators of Her Story, a six-part web series about the dating lives of trans women. If you haven’t already seen it, we suggest you head over to YouTube immediately (after reading this interview, of course). It’s incredible – beautifully produced and acted, with a completely addictive storyline and characters to fall in love with. This week, we chatted with co-star and co-writer of the show, Jen Richards. She has incredibly insightful things to say about making representative media, the power of women in film, and the vulnerability it took to play her character, Violet.[divider type="dashed" spacing="10"]
Introduce yourself! Tell us who you are and what you do.
I'm Jen Richards, the co-writer and co-star of Her Story.
We love that Her Story represents trans women in such a rich, complicated and real way – a way we don't often see in other media. Can you tell us a bit more about how you accomplished that and why it was important to you?
It was accomplished by simply centering the real voices of trans women in the work. So much of storytelling to date has been about us, but did not include us. We've used at plot devices, a prop in someone else's emotional journey. It hasn't been our story. This is.
What's been the most challenging part of this work? And the most rewarding?
Personally, my biggest challenge was allowing myself to be as raw and vulnerable as Violet's scenes demanded. It helped tremendously that most of the crew were women. Collectively we created a safe space that allowed all of the actors to achieve a degree of intimacy, of honesty, that would been hard to imagine on most sets. I suppose that's what was most rewarding too. To be part of a project that consciously chose a feminine approach to filmmaking and proved that doing so doesn't sacrifice quality, but rather creates it. I felt very blessed to work with so many incredible women.
What advice would you have for other media-makers who want to create truly representative content?
[pullquote align="right" cite="" link="" color="" class="" size=""]If you really care, then work with us. Help us tell our own stories. Hire us, give us internships, give us money. Use your comparative privilege to lift up other voices.[/pullquote]
There's a natural amount of ego in most projects, which can be healthy, but be aware of when ego is responsible for you telling someone else's story, of making it about you. I don't trust many cis people telling trans stories, white people telling black stories, men telling women's stories, etc. It usually ends up being exploitative. In those situations, collaboration is key, and willful ceding of power and control. If you're not willing to give up some power and control to people from the community you're representing, then it's probably more about you.
I hear a lot of creators say they're motivated by care, that they're trying to bring visibility, and that may be true, but it's also a mask for their own ambition. Trans people, as just one example, don't need more visibility. We need opportunities, roles, jobs, investment. If you're doing a trans movie to "help bring visibility", but have a cis guy play the trans role, then you're actually part of the problem, not the solution. If you really care, then work with us. Help us tell our own stories. Hire us, give us internships, give us money. Use your comparative privilege to lift up other voices.
And if you are one of the marginalized, I urge you to become undeniable in some skill set. Work, work, work until you're overqualified, and develop a wide and deep network of strong personal relationships. It's not fair that we have to work so much harder than straight white dudes, or that my black friends have to work harder than me, but it's the single most effective strategy for creating change. And then when you get opportunities, or make your own, bring others with you.
What's next for you? Any upcoming projects you'd like to share with us?
I just wrapped a docu-series, and accompanying PSA-style scripted short, directed by Silas Howard for the MAC AIDS Fund. I'm very proud of it. I have a supporting role in a feature coming out later this year, an indie film by Adam Keleman, that I'm excited to see. Most exciting, we're pitching a full-season version of Her Story to networks, which has a biggest cast and broader story. Mostly I'm writing, at the moment several features across a spectrum of genres. I've been living out of suitcases and on the charity of friends for a year now, so hopefully I can sell something soon and finally settle into LA!